Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering – Timothy Keller (2013)

kellerI have yet to meet a person who enjoys pain and suffering.  Yet suffering is a part of the warp and woof of life.  It is not a part of God’s original intent for creation.  Since Adam’s first sin, pain and suffering have been an abnormal part of the cosmos.  Suffering is an unwelcome guest who bullies his way to the table and makes demands – much like a  soldier on a bloody battlefield.

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller addresses this topic with candor and clarity.  Keller leaves no stone unturned here.  The book is organized into three sections:

Understanding the Furnace

Keller introduces the problem of pain and suffering and explores some of the philosophical challenges that Christ-followers must understand and address.

“Nothing is more important than to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity,” writes Keller.  Yet our culture has a tendency to respond to suffering in ways that are helpful and wrongheaded.  The moralist response to suffering is to “do good.”  The fatalist’s response to suffering is to “hang in there” and “endure.”  The dualist response to suffering is “purified faithfulness.”  And the secular response to suffering is focussed on “technique.”  A combination of these erroneous responses to suffering litter the current milieu and produce a generation of confused and discouraged people.

Keller rightly alerts readers to the importance of worldviews and their relation to the subject of pain and suffering.  Ultimately, the matter of pain and suffering is a matter of faith.  “Faith,” writes Keller “is the promise of God.”  He adds, “We can be fully accepted and counted legally righteous in God’s sight through faith in Christ, solely by free grace … It means freedom from fear of the future, from any anxiety about your eternal destiny.  It is the most liberating idea possible and it ultimately enables you to face all suffering, knowing that because of the cross, God is absolutely for you and that because of the resurrection, everything will be all right in the end.”

Facing the Furnace

Part two provides readers with the theological muscle – a crucial part of the battle.  Keller unpacks the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and provides a painful but biblical rationale for the role of suffering the lives of people.

At the heart of this discussion is an important look at the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The author summarizes, “That is, in order to satisfy justice, in order to punish sin so that in love he could forgive and receive us, God had to bear the penalty for sin within himself.  God the Son took the punishment we deserved, including being cut off from the Father.  And so God took into his own self, his own heart, an infinite agony – out of love for us.”

Keller’s treatment in part two travels great distances to help resolve the problem of evil – the so-called “Achilles heal” of the Christian faith: “So while Christianity never claims to be able to offer a full explanation of all God’s reasons behind every instance of evil and suffering – it does have a final answer to it.  The answer will be given at the end of history and all who hear it and see its fulfillment will find it completely satisfying, infinitely sufficient.”

While Keller never attempts to provide a comprehensive answer to the problem of evil, his treatment of this thorny subject is some of the best in print.  He may not satisfy the disciples of David Hume, Voltaire, or Sam Harris – but he does give ample ammunition for believers who are looking for honest answers.

Walking With God in the Furnace

Parts one and two explore the philosophical and theological angles of pain and suffering.  Part three helps readers with practical application.  They are given practical tools for “walking with God in the furnace.”  The very notion of walking with God in the furnace assumes pain – pain that some are unwilling to admit.  But practical experience reveals that we live in a broken world; a world which has been torn to shreds by the consequences of sin.

Keller urges readers to walk with God in suffering: “If you go into the furnace without the gospel, it will not be possible to find God in there.  You will be sure he has done terrible wrong or you have and you will feel all alone.  Going into the fire without the gospel is the most dangerous thing anyone can do.”  So the gospel is the first and last defense of every Christ-follower; indeed it is the hope of the watching world.

Second, the author stresses the importance of weeping during seasons of adversity.  Elijah serves as an example of a man who cried out in great agony.  He was a man unafraid of weeping.  Such an approach is not only honest – it is a sign of emotional health.

Third, Keller demonstrates the need for trusting in God during days of pain and adversity.    Joseph is portrayed as an example of a man who trusted: If the story of Joseph and the whole of the Bible is true, then anything that comes into your life is something that, as painful as it is, you need in some way.”  Jesus too demonstrated trust in his Father and points believers in the identical direction.  Keller continues to alert readers to other tools that they should utilize during their dark days.

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering is a watershed book that deserves to be read.  Christ-followers will no doubt be encouraged by this Christ-exalting book; a book which drives readers to the cross of the suffering Savior.

Highly recommended!

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief – John Frame (2013)

a frameHow does one review a systematic theology by one of the leading minds of the evangelical world?  How does one summarize the thoughts of a 1,100-page book that towers with truth; a book that takes readers to the top of the theological mountain?  Anyone who attempts to read and devour Systematic Theology by John Frame will be faced with such questions.  Indeed, while the oxygen is scarce at the top of this theological peak, readers will be delighted to enjoy the view that Dr. Frame presents.  As one might expect, every branch of systematic theology is explored.  The author invites readers on a journey which introduces them to God who relates to creatures as their covenant Lord.  The three lordship attributes are articulated throughout the book – control, authority, and presence.

Several thoughts help capture the essence of this incredible book.  While some will be put off by such thoughts, my hope is that a majority of readers will be motivated and inspired to pick up Dr. Frame’s work.  This powerful book is marked by at least ten features:

  1. It is God-Centered
  2. It is Scripture-soaked
  3. It is unashamedly Calvinistic
  4. It is conservative
  5. It exposes liberal scholarship and lays bare its erroneous presuppositions
  6. It is biblical
  7. It is mind-penetrating
  8. It is heart-softening
  9. It is personal
  10. It leads readers to worship God

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief by John Frame is a theological tour de force.   This weighty volume is drenched with Scripture and is drowning with biblical wisdom.  I cannot think of any other writer who has influenced my thinking, outside of Jonathan Edwards himself.  This work is a true labor of love, a gift to the church, and a tool that will sharpen the minds of Christ-followers and serve as a heart-tenderizer for many years to come!

Highly recommended

5 stars

Spurgeon’s Sorrows – Zack Eswine

spurgeonI have a friend who was born in 1834.  That would make him 183 years old.  He went home to be with Jesus in 1892 – at the peak of his ministry and in the prime of his life.  I have often asked why God takes the heroes of the faith so soon – Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, and John Calvin all died in their 50’s.  David Brainerd and Jim Elliot died before they reached the age of 30.  While the question is interesting to ponder, the question is not ours to ask.  Enter the Creator —

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2, ESV).

“You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great” (Job 38:21, ESV).

“And the LORD said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?  He who argues with God, let him answer it’” (Job 40:2, ESV).

I have been learning from my friend, C.H. Spurgeon for nearly 25 years now.  He has taught me many lessons.  He introduced me to Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, a book he read over 100 times in his short life.  Spurgeon has taught me the importance of expositional preaching.  On many occasions, he has reminded me about the importance of the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching, not to mention living the Christian life.  He has inspired courage and conviction and prompted me to be unwavering, even in the darkest of days.

But one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my British friend is how to deal with melancholy.  Zack Eswine helps highlight some of those lessons in his book, Spurgeon’s Sorrows.  The subtitle accurately reflects the basic theme of the book, Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression.  

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is arranged in three parts.  Part One walks readers through the basics of depression.  What is it?  How can one recognize it?  What is spiritual depression?  Part Two presents a path for helping people who suffer from depression.  And Part Three is a practical section that offers practical assistance for dealing with depression.

Chapter nine is worth the price of the book as the author directs readers to the promises of God and shows how Spurgeon utilized this habit of claiming the promises of Jesus in his daily walk with God.

Spurgeon’s Sorrows is a short book filled with biblical counsel for people who battle depression and provides help for anyone who is reaching out to folks who are wading through the Slough of Despondence.  In the final analysis, readers are encouraged to cling to their Savior who promises to walk with them through every valley.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” (Psalm 23:1–2, ESV)

4 stars

Slave – John MacArthur (2010)

John MacArthur has been churning out quality Christian books and resources for over thirty-five years.  He has been defining and defending the biblical gospel in books like The Gospel According to Jesus, Faith Works, Ashamed of the Gospel, Hard to Believe, and The Truth War. Each of these books, beginning especially with The Gospel According to Jesus has had a profound effect on my life and pastoral ministry.

MacArthur’s book, Slave continues to articulate the biblical gospel, the very same gospel that was preached by the apostles, Reformers, and Puritans.   The uniqueness of this book is that the author seeks to “pull the hidden jewel” as he says, “all the way into the sunlight.”

MacArthur’s concern is that what is means to be a Christian has been and is being redefined by many evangelicals.  But the New Testament clearly delineates the meaning of what is means to be a Christian, namely, a “wholehearted follower of Christ.”  MacArthur picks up the same theme he began in The Gospel According to Jesus when he argues that Christian discipleship “demands a deep affection for Him, allegiance to Him, and submission to His Word.”

The Greek term doulos is at the heart of MacArthur’s concern.  While English translations have been notorious for mistranslating this term as “servant,” the proper translation is “slave.”  He notes this glaring error and insists that while many Greek words can be translated “servant,” doulos is certainly not one of them!  The author highlights the key distinction between a servant and a slave, namely, “servants are hired; slaves are owned.”

Therefore, Christian disciples are defined in a biblical sense as slaves of God.  MacArthur adds, “He [Christ] is the Master and Owner.  We are His possession.  He is the King, and the Lord, and the Son of God.  We are His subjects and His subordinates … True Christianity is not about adding Jesus to my life.  Instead, it is about devoting myself completely to Him – submitting wholly to His will and seeking to please Him above all else.”

MacArthur argues convincingly that Christ is Lord and Master over his church (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18).  Indeed, Christ is sovereign over every person and everything in the universe.  John Hus is cited as a model of one who fully gave his life “to the sovereign lordship of Christ and the supremacy of His Word …”

The author demonstrates the folly of a watered-down version of Christianity: “To diminish the dominating role of Scripture in the life of the church is to treat the Lord of the church as if His revelation were optional … Nonbiblical ministry, non-expository preaching, and non-doctrinal teaching usurp Christ’s headship, silencing His voice to His sheep.”

MacArthur presents the biblical portrait of man apart from Christ, namely, “bound, blind, and dead.”  The backdrop of depravity sets the stage for grace to rule and reign in the hearts and minds of sinners.  For “it is from slavery to sin that God saves His elect, rescuing them from the domain of darkness and transferring them as His own slaves into the kingdom of His Son” (Col 1:13).  The author continues, “Freedom in Christ, then, is not freedom to sin but freedom from sin – freedom to live as God intends, in truth and holiness.”

MacArthur presents an excellent summary of particular redemption, a doctrine that has been neglected for years in the church.  He argues, “Christ’s death on the cross actually pays the penalty for the elect sinner, redeeming him from sin and rescuing him from God’s wrath … the saving benefits of Christ’s redemptive work are applied only to those whom God has chosen for Himself.”

The author sets forth the biblical teaching concerning adoption.  The historical precedent for adoption is shown in the Old Testament.  And the New Testament reality of adoption is explained in detail.  All of God’s elect are thus “simultaneously sons and slaves.”  MacArthur adds, “Like justification, adoption rests on the loving purpose and grace of God.”

Finally, the author presents four compelling paradoxes that relate to the overall theme of the book:

1. Slavery brings freedom.

2. Slavery ends prejudice.

3. Slavery magnifies grace.

4. Slavery pictures salvation.

John MacArthur just keeps getting the gospel right.  Ever since he wrote The Gospel According to Jesus, he has been warning the church to define the gospel biblically and keep Christ at the center of the gospel.  He continues to remind the church to steer clear from the no-lordship position that is promoted by the Free Grace Movement, which is, in the final analysis, a different gospel.

MacArthur hits the Christological target with this book.  With the skill of a theologian-marksman, he exalts and magnifies Christ.  In the final analysis, Slave is a primer on Reformed theology and is written with humility and great erudition.  It should receive a wide reading for years to come and make a significant difference in the body of Christ.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program.

 

 

Reformation Theology

refMatthew Barrett, Ed. Reformation Theology, Wheaton: Crossway, 2017, 784 pp. $33.00

Nearly five hundred years ago, Martin Luther nailed his now famous ninety-five theses to the castle door in Wittenberg. Luther’s courage continues to inspire faithful followers of Jesus. His character raises the bar for anyone who strives to serve with truth-centered passion in the kingdom of God. His conviction puts steely audacity in the hearts of the timid and fearlessness in the one prone to cowardice. The resolve of Martin Luther helps fuel a new generation of Christians who do the right things for the right reasons—all for the glory of God.

Reformation Theology, edited by Matthew Barrett celebrates the doctrinal realities that flowed forth from the pens of men like Martin Luther and John Calvin. Barrett rightly argues that the gospel was rediscovered during the Protestant Reformation. He adds, “The Reformation was a return to a gospel-centered, Word-centered church.” Thus, this book seeks to present a systematic summary of Reformation theology.

Part One reveals the historical background of the Reformation and alerts readers to the pertinent details of the Reformation that helped fuel the fire which erupted in the sixteenth century.

Part Two compromises the vast majority of the book and contains the finer points of Reformation theology. Every theme that one might fathom is set forth in this volume – everything from the doctrine of justification by faith alone to the solas, predestination and election, and the Lord’s Supper. No stone is left unturned here.

Reformation Theology is a must for students of historical theology and systematic theology. The depth and breadth of scholarship is stunning. We owe a great debt to Matthew Barrett for teaming up with such a fine group of theologians.

Highly recommended!

Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl

tilt

N.D. Wilson, Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009, 197 pp.  $7.13

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, by N.D. Wilson is a fascinating look at God’s creation from a creative perspective.

Several features are worth noting.  First, Wilson reminds readers of the importance of a personal Creator: “For those who believe in ex nihilo creation, the world is inevitably art, and it is inevitably art from top to bottom, in every time and in every place.  The world cannot exist apart from the voice of God.  It is the voicings of God.”  The author demonstrates the absurdity of a creation devoid of a personal Creator.

Second, Wilson demonstrates the utter foolishness of atheism, relativism, and Darwinian natural selection.  He chides the evolutionist and sets his eyes on God’s good creation.  He makes it clear (and rightly so) that he will enjoy God’s good creation.

Third, I appreciate Wilson’s interaction with philosophers like Hume and Kant.  But especially noteworthy is his interaction with the German philosopher, Nietzsche.  I sense he respects Nietzsche and would have savored the opportunity to sit and visit with him in a German tavern.  But Wilson admits a frustration with Nietzsche: “I want to ruffle his hair.  I want to take the poor Lutheran boy’s head in my hands and kiss his creased forehead.  It is all I can do.  I cannot set a bone, let alone a soul.”  Wilson continues with an unforgettable line: “He [Nietzsche] moves on, preaching unbelief to an empty street.”

Finally, the author effectively reminds readers of an eternal hell: “Heaven or Hell is about love and hate.  Do you love God or do you hate him?  Is He foul in your nostrils?  Do you see His art and wish your arm was long enough to reach His face?  Do you spit and curse like Nietzsche?  Would you trade places with the damned thief so that you might see Him die and know that God Himself heard your challenges?”  Wilson continues, “Then Hell is for you.  Hell is for you because God is kind and reserves a place for those who loathe Him to the end, an eternal exile, a joyless haven for those who would eternally add to their guilt, a place where blasphemy will be new every morning … If you displease Him, He will displease you.  He will put you away and remove the grace you have experienced in this world.  With the crutches of His goodness gone, He will leave people to themselves, leave them to their own corrupt desires and devices.”

Thankfully, the author does not leave the reader groveling in hopelessness at the prospect of an eternal hell: “If you want to love Him, then He has already begun giving you change.  He has already begun unclenching your fists, taking your filth to be laundered on the cross.”

Wilson demonstrates that he is well-read and tuned in theologically and philosophically.  For instance, one of my favorite lines in the book is directed Godward: “An infinite God is I AM, and all else must be measured in terms of His nature, His loves, and His loathings.”  This is heady, creative writing.  In fact, some of this stuff is pure genius!  The writing is a strange mixture of Don Miller, Dennis Miller, C.S. Lewis, and G.K Chesterton.

The goodness in Wilson’s work, however, is overshadowed at times by his insistence on using profanity.    For instance, the author skillfully demonstrates the foolishness of rejecting transcendent absolute standards and argues against a relativistic worldview:  “I look in the atheist’s mirror.  I look at his faith in the nonexistence of meaning.  I look at his preaching and painting.  I see nothing but a shi*-storm.”  This kind of banter is totally unnecessary and undercuts the weight of the otherwise legitimate argument.

This growing trend toward the glorification of the profane is an alarming trend in the church, one that needlessly offends and accomplishes absolutely nothing.  This kind of writing is clearly not consistent with the Scriptural mandate, especially Paul’s warning to the Ephesian church: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking which are out-of-place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Eph. 5:4, ESV).  Colossians 3:8 makes it clear that Christ followers are to put away “obscene talk.”  For we have been “renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col. 3:10, ESV).  I can already anticipate the quick response I will receive from postmodern pastors, emergent sympathizers, and enthusiastic bloggers.  But I stand with Scripture on my side.  For “my conscience is held captive by the Word of God.  To go against conscience is neither right nor safe.”  Indeed, it is ironic to lay claim to Luther’s words, given his propensity to use vulgarity.  However, I argue that Luther should have taken the scrub brush to his mouth as well.

I know some Christ-followers who would toss this book into the ash heap because of the vulgarity.  I am not prepared to go that far.  I am not ready toss the baby out with the bathwater.  There is too much good in Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl to justify such a knee-jerk reaction.

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl made me dizzy.  But it also made me think.  Sometimes it angered me.  At the end of the day, I am glad I came to the “carnival.”  I am glad I decided to jump on the ride.  At times, I felt as if I’d eaten too much cotton candy.  But other times, I felt like buying another “ticket” and riding again – and again!

God the Son Incarnate – Stephen J. Wellum (2016)

god-the-sonStephen J. Wellum, God the Son Incarnate Wheaton: Crossway, 2016, 496 pp, $40.00

God the Son Incarnate by Stephen J. Wellum is the latest installment in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series. This outstanding series, edited by John Feinberg was first introduced with the publication of No One Like Him back in 2001.

The author notes that “Jesus himself understood and taught that both Scripture and God’s plan of salvation are Christocenric.” J.I. Packer adds, “Christology is the true hub round which the wheel of theology revolves, and to which its separate spokes must each be correctly anchored if the wheel is not to get bent.” Thus, the stakes could not be any higher as readers wrestle with the weight doctrines that concern the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The book contains four sections, each with a specific topic that relates to the overall matter of Christology:

Part 1: Epistemological Warrant For Christology Today

The first part should be considered the theological rebar of the book. The author explores Christology and its relationship to the Enlightenment. After sufficiently exhausting some of the major challenges to a biblical Christology, Dr. Wellum presents a biblical epistemology that will serve readers well for the remainder of the book.

Part 2: Biblical Warrant for Christology Today

The biblical plot line is presented (creation, fall, redemption, consummation) which gives readers a helpful overview and places Christology in its proper theological context. The concept of “kingdom through covenant” is discussed which ultimately leads to a rigorous discussion of Christology.

Once the biblical and theological parameters are in place, the author moves forward and discusses the self-identity of Jesus. From there, some of the crucial Christological data is ready to be revealed, including the deity and humanity of Christ and the incarnation.

Part 3: Ecclesiological Warrant for Christology Today

Part three includes some of the weighty matters that surround the discipline of Christology including the nature-person distinction and the Ante-Nicene Christological formulation.

Part 4: A Warranted Christology for Today

The final section discusses some of the more recent Christological controversies, most notably the problem of the so-called kenosis. Dr. Wellum fairly evaluates kenoticism, alerting readers to the many problems it contains.

Conclusion

Dr. Wellum nicely summarizes his work: “Ultimately, the thesis of this entire work is one theological conclusion with many parts. Based on the warrant and critique of the previous chapters, we must confess that the identity of the Jesus of the Bible is that he is God the Son incarnate.”

God the Son Incarnate is a much-needed work as the doctrinal winds continue to blow in every direction, which threaten the biblical and historical Christological. This work is a bulwark of certainty and a prompter of praise. My prayer is that it receives a wide readership, both in the church as well as the academy.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.